Our conclusion to this series on Garden Design Basics leads you through the final steps needed to create your new landscape. Eager as you may be to get your plants into the ground, this ultimate preparation phase is as important as all of the others. To save time and money, we recommend that the last thing you do is go shopping for plants!
Infrastructure: Before digging any holes for plants, complete the installation of your infrastructure, including all hardscape, irrigation lines, and drainage facilities. Build berms, install focal point(s), pour concrete, place landscape rocks; all of this comes before the living elements are added. Planting beds can be outlined with rocks at the same time as planting, if the rocks are relatively small and placing them will not disturb the plants.
Irrigation: Before planting is also the ideal time to test your newly installed or revamped irrigation system: make sure that flow and volume are correct, and that emitters for hydrozones (if included in your design) are properly sized. Resources for learning more about drip irrigation can be found in the Drought and Water-Wise Gardening section of our website.
- AIR: Compaction is the bane of healthy soil. It reduces space for air and water movement and creates anaerobic conditions (which in turn attract and feed detrimental bacteria, fungi, and protozoa). Try to protect your soil from heavy foot traffic and heavy equipment during hardscape installation. Lay down wide boards to distribute the weight more evenly in areas that experience a lot of foot and wheelbarrow traffic. Keep heavy equipment use to a minimal, restricted area if possible.
- FOOD: Organic compost and mulch provide nutrients to soil. Nutrients from organic mulches are leached into the soil through rains and irrigation, while organic composts are manually incorporated into the soil itself. Composted organic materials improve air and water movement, improve soil structure, reduce surface crusting and soil erosion, and increase water absorption and infiltration. Organic mulches reduce soil erosion, reduce annual weeds, and reduce evaporation and runoff. Good examples of organic mulches include leaves and the various sizes of wood chips.
- WATER: The texture of soil directly affects its ability to hold or shed water. Soils with a high proportion of clay drain poorly, creating waterlogged environments low in oxygen. This is hard on the roots of most plants and on the organisms which thrive in healthy soil. Soils that are too sandy allow water to leach nutrients below the root zone and have a low water holding capacity, allowing moisture stress to occur more quickly. Amending either soil type with compost can help: adding compost to clay soil increases aeration and water infiltration; adding compost to sandy soil increases its water and nutrient holding capacity.
- PROTECTION FROM ABUSE: Compaction is not the only form of soil misuse. Erosion is a culprit as well: overwatering bare soil can cause runoff and reduce the nutrients in the soil. Applying mulches and/or incorporating groundcover plants can protect soil from eroding on a slope. Create mini-berms around plants on slopes, and add terraces to steep yards during the hardscape phase of garden preparation. Neglect is another form of abuse! Check plants on a regular basis to catch pest infestations or signs of stress. Irrigation systems need regular check-ups too, as small rodents and problems with water pressure can wreak havoc on water lines and emitters.
Now you can go shopping. Happy Gardening!
This series of Real Dirt articles summarizes the presentation Butte County Master Gardener Eve Werner created for the Butte County Master Gardeners Spring 2017 Workshop Series.
UC Master Gardeners of Butte County are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system. To learn more about us and our upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, email the Hotline at email@example.com (preferred) or call (530) 538-7201.
By Mahina Gannet and Jeanette Alosi, Butte County Master Gardeners, May 31, 2013
If you plan to travel this summer, now might be a good time to install an automatic watering system. Doing so can ensure that your plants will not be under-watered or over-watered in your absence.
An effective irrigation system will supply the right amount of water to each plant resulting in water savings and more healthy plants. It will reduce weeds and help prevent pest and disease problems from occurring.
Drip irrigation is the tool that can help you minimize water wastage and maximize water’s benefits to your garden. Drip watering is the frequent, slow application of water to soil through emitters or micro-sprinklers. Drip irrigation works well for vegetable gardens, ornamental and fruit trees, shrubs, vines, and outdoor container plants. Even without an automatic sprinkler system installed, a drip system can be set up using a standard garden hose attached to the main drip line.
Installation of a basic, simple drip system is quite straightforward, and easily within the grasp of most home gardeners. It goes together much like a tubular erector set, all snapping together. Main one-half-inch (1/2”) or five-eighths inch (5/8”) polyethylene tubing line connects to your water source (if you’re on well water, you need a filter on the water source). Drip emitters, microsprinklers, or ¼” spaghetti tubing with emitters can be installed off the main line using barbed connector fittings that poke into the main lines. Solid spaghetti tubing can also be attached to the main line with an emitter attached at the other end to provide water directly to the plant. Alternatively, main line poly tubing can be purchased with in-line emitters pre-installed inside the tubing. Both the main poly tubing line or the in-line emitter tubing can be snaked through your beds or circled around shrubs and trees to deliver water directly to your plants.
With a drip irrigation system in place, water will be delivered a) directly to the plants of your choice and b) directly to the roots of those plants. These two simple factors can lead to fewer unwanted weeds in the garden and help reduce plant diseases.
The second consideration for smart watering is consistency. An automatic watering system is extremely consistent because it runs on a set schedule.
The timing and amount of water you deliver depends on the plants to be watered and the soil type. Depending upon your soil’s density, water will move quickly or slowly through it. For example, water poured through sand will move very quickly because sand is loose rather than dense or compact. But water poured through clay will trickle very slowly. Consider the plant’s whole root structure within your particular type of soil. An effective water system will deliver water to the entire root structure. The goal is to water for deep, strong roots that that aren’t waterlogged.
This is where math becomes useful. Drip irrigation emitters release a certain amount of water per hour. You can calculate how much water you are delivering by employing simple multiplication and division; with that number, you can decide how long you need to run your irrigation. Decide on the amount of water required by the plants each watering cycle, calculate the amount of time needed to deliver that amount (gallons per hour per emitter x total number of hours = total gallons per emitter) and water for that amount of time.
Watering is an active relationship that requires constant adjustments. You may need to tinker with your system to make seasonal changes, fix broken pieces, and make adjustments for better efficiency.
While drip irrigation is a good way to achieve efficient watering, it is not absolutely necessary. What is necessary is analyzing your own plants and determining how to best meet their needs given your personal situation. If you are a gardener who travels frequently, implementing a reliable automatic watering system will reassure you that your plants will remain happy, well watered, and growing until you return.
A very helpful publication on this subject is the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) Publication 21579, “Drip Irrigation in the Home Landscape.”